President Obama has a habit of making grand-sounding claims that shrink under closer examination. I have previously written of such claims relative to deficit reduction and the cutting of regulations. In both cases, reality was but a shadow of the president’s extravagant language. Recent remarks in Columbus, Ohio continued the tradition as the president talked about the energy needs of this country and what his administration has done to make sure we have an affordable, reliable, and consistent supply. At one point, while ticking off examples of the way he has reduced dependence on foreign oil, increased domestic production and opened new areas to energy exploration, he said, “We’ve added enough oil and gas pipeline to circle the entire Earth and then some.” This is an effective word picture since even in the era when we often hear “the world is getting smaller all the time,” everyone can still maintain a healthy respect for the a tremendous distance a circuit of the earth covers.
But what is the context? The circumference of the earth is about 25,000 miles. So, if we’ve added 25,000 miles of pipeline in the past three and a half years (let’s say 30,000 to take into account President Obama’s “and then some,”) how much existing pipeline was there to begin with? According to a chart on the Department of Transportation website, in 2003 there were 2.3 million miles of existing pipeline. The president’s Pipeline-Around-the-World (and-Then-Some) has added to the total by a whopping 1.3%. In three and a half years. That comes to a .37% increase per year, or about 8,500 miles. Now the word picture becomes a pipeline from Washington DC to somewhere in the Pacific Ocean about 1,000 miles short of Sydney, Australia, in the neighborhood of where the airplane in the TV series Lost went down.
I have emailed the White House requesting the source of the president’s claim, but have not yet heard anything. Perhaps the President is referring to a certain kind of pipeline that would make the progress of the last 42 months seem more significant. Or perhaps this rate of progress in adding pipeline is typical under current environmental and regulatory conditions. Or even better than typical. However, the president’s penchant for vague but impressive sounding delineations of his administration’s accomplishments lead me to believe the portrait he has painted owes a great deal to artistic license. To put the president’s annual pipeline output in perspective, the distance from earth to the moon is about 240,000 miles. When one has made five round-trips to the moon, a flight from Washington DC to Australia that ditches in the Pacific Ocean loses much of its allure.